When the young Gregg Popovich played on the lands of Manu Ginobili

The information was confirmed by the source itself. The little doubt that remained was therefore swept away with a wave of the hand.

By an exchange of messages between the two former teammates of Albiceleste, Alejandro Montecchia and Manu Ginobili, the Argentine newspaper The new one managed to get confirmation that the “J. Popovich” on the July 30, 1972 game sheet was indeed a typo.

Coach Popovich was part of the American pre-Olympic selection which lost to Bahia Blanca (80-71), in an overheated atmosphere at Osvaldo Casanova, where a certain Ginobili would shine twenty years later. Coach Pop’ was even a holder…

Then in preparation for the twentieth Olympiad which was to take place in Munich, Popovich had been selected from a total of 44 basketball players from the top amateur and university leagues. But he had been “relegated” to a B team, sent on tour to South America.

It was the time when Americans were not yet requisitioning NBA stars to defend national honor. It was also the time when the United States dominated basketball head and shoulders. Since 1936, no American team had lost a match at the Olympic Games!

A drunken South American tour?

But this July evening, against a team from Bahia who had beaten the world champion, Yugoslavia, the previous year, during the inauguration of the Norberto Tomás stadium of the Olimpo club, the American selection will also bite the dust. .

“I had been placed in a B team and we had been sent to Brazil and Argentina”, Pop recalled at a Team USA rally. “We had some great evenings with the guys, it was really fun. But I think we had lost all our matches! »

Not all of them, since Pop’s Team USA, player, would have beaten a team from Buenos Aires before falling to Bahia Blanca. But yes almost…

In front of two small points at halftime (38-36), with 6 points from Popovich, the American selection ended up cracking under the pressure of the Argentine zone defense, with 26 points from Cabrera and 31 from De Lizaso .

Under cheers that will go from “Bahía Bahía” to “Argentina Argentina”, the Americans will return to the locker room defeated (80-71). A taste of future defeats, with NBA players this time. As for Popovich? He had finished his match with 9 small points.

Closing the loop in 2005

But, much more serious, he will not be part of the Olympic team which will leave for Munich at the end of this tour which is as festive as it is folkloric. Left out of the final selection both because of his low level and a most random and (for once) amateur selection process, Popovich will never really recover, as a player…

“It was a punch in the stomach”says RC Buford, who knows Popovich very well. “He never forgot. »

“Devastated” by this refusal, which will still save him the humiliation of being the first American team beaten at the Olympics, Popovich will go from the field to the bench the following year in his “alma mater” of the Air Force, in 1973. For the success that we know him now.

And, in a wink of fate, it was this same success that again brought him back to Bahia Blanca, homeland of Manu Ginobili, after their NBA title gleaned together in 2005.



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